Not much is known about the lives of Machlah,
Noah, Chaglah, Milkah and Tirtzah. But at a defining moment
in the history of Israel, these five sisters, daughters
of Tzelafchad the son of Chefer, profoundly influenced the
Jew's approach to the world in which he lives.
Tzelafchad was of the generation born in Egyptian slavery,
liberated by the Exodus, and granted the Land of Canaan as
Israel's eternal heritage. Although that generation did not
merit to take possession of the land themselves, when their
children crossed the Jordan River to conquer it they did so
as their fathers' heirs. Each family received its share in
the land in accordance with its apportionment among the 600,000
members of the generation of the Exodus.
Tzelafchad had five daughters but no sons. The laws of inheritance
as they were initially given in the Torah, which recognized
only male heirs, made no provision for his share to be claimed
by his descendants. Machlah, Noah, Chaglah, Milkah and Tirtzah
refused to reconcile themselves to this, and approached Moses
with the petition: "Why should our father's name be eliminated
from his family, because he has no son? Grant us an estate
amongst [the heirs of] our father's brothers."
Moses presented their argument to G-d, who responded: "The
daughters of Tzelafchad speak rightly. Give ... their father's
estate to them." G-d then instructed Moses to include the following clause in
the Torah's laws of inheritance: If a man dies and he has
no son, you shall pass his estate on to his daughter.
The Exodus and the conquest of the Land-the two events which
framed the 40 years in which we were forged as a people-represent
the two primary endeavors of life. "Going out of Egypt"
represents the liberation of the soul from all that confines
its true self and will; "conquering and settling the
Land of Canaan" represents the conquest of the material
world and its development as a "home for G-d"-as
an environment receptive to and expressive of the goodness
and perfection of its Creator.
The generation of the Exodus succeeded in the first endeavor
but failed in the second. They extricated themselves from
the pagan culture and slave mentality in which they were immersed,
refining their souls to the point of worthiness to receive
the Truth of Truths directly from G-d at Sinai. But they spurned
the task of "conquering and settling the land,"
loath to abandon their spiritual hermitage in the desert in
order to grapple with the materiality of the world and labor
to transform "The Land of Canaan" into "The
Holy Land." So it was decreed that they would live out
their lives in the desert, leaving it to their children to
settle the land in their stead.
On the individual level, each of us faces these two tasks
throughout our lives: the endeavor to liberate and actualize
our soul's spiritual potential, and the challenge to make
our material life and environment a holy and G-dly place.
We each must struggle to make the transition from a childhood
and youth devoted to self-development and self perfection
to a life of productive involvement with the outside world.
A Different Conquest
But people are different from one another. In the words of
the Talmud, "Just as their faces are different, so are
their characters different." There are bold characters and meek characters, aggressive natures
and passive dispositions. There are those of us who revel
in a challenge, and those who are all but devoid of the warrior
instinct and the zeal for confrontation.
Therein lies the deeper significance of the laws of inheritance
as commanded by G-d in response to the petition by the daughters
of Tzelafchad. "If a man ... has no son" - if a
person ascertains in his or her self a lack of "male"
aggressiveness and combativeness -he might deduce from this
that he has no role to play in the "conquest of the land."
Such a person might be inclined to devote all his energies
to the refinement of his inner self, and leave the task of
sanctifying an unholy world to those with "sons."
Says the Torah: conquering and settling the land is not an
exclusively male endeavor. Each of Israel's souls has a "portion
in the land" - a corner of the material world it is empowered
to possess, civilize and sanctify. Indeed, this is a task
which often calls for aggressiveness and confrontation; but
there is also a "feminine" way to transform the
materiality of our lives into a "Holy Land."
"If a man ... has no son, you shall pass his estate
on to his daughter." The very fact that a person is by
nature disinclined toward the aggressiveness of the "male
warrior" indicates that he has been granted the capacity
to transform his surroundings via his "daughter"
- by employing the passive, compassionate, non-confrontational
side of his soul.
This is the law of life revealed by the daughters of Tzelafchad:
Not all conquests are achieved by overpowering one's adversary.
At times, receptiveness and empathy are far more effective
in overcoming the hostility of the "enemy" and transforming
its very nature. The absence of a "male heir" in
the soul may in fact indicate the presence of a "feminine"
self no less capable of claiming the soul's portion in the
world and transforming it into a "home for G-d."
Based on the Rebbe's talks on Tammuz 13, 5715 (July 3,
1955) and on other occasions
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
 Mitzrayim, the Hebrew word for "Egypt,"
means "confines" and "limitations."
 Midrash Tanchuma, Pinchas 10.